Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu on Monday rejected the Congress-led Opposition parties' impeachment motion against Chief Justice Dipak Misra. The Congress termed his decision illegal. However, legal experts have said that the Vice President was well his power to take a call on the notice.
Contrary to cries of ‘illegality’ by Congress over Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu’s decision to reject the impeachment notice moved by the opposition, top legal experts in the country have welcomed the decision, saying the Vice President was well within his rights to decide on the petition. Noted academic and legal expert NR Madhav Menon on Monday backed the Vice President’s move, saying ‘he is well within the power to do so’ and that it is written in the Article 124 of the Constitution. But, he said, the only question is on what grounds. Terming the motion ‘ill-conceived, unfortunate and regrettable’, Menon said that there was a need for great caution while dealing with Constitutional functionaries. He also questioned the timing of the opposition’s petition.
Menon said that it would have been ‘grave injustice’ to admit the seven opposition parties’ notice in this manner. “Here you are dealing with the Chief Justice of India. To my mind, it would have been a great injustice if it was admitted in this manner,” he was quoted as saying by The Indian Express.
Questioning the opposition’s charge of misbehaviour, he said that even coming late to office amounts to misbehaviour. “But that’s not what the Constitution demands,” he said. Without naming the opposition parties, he said that a section of political establishment is trying to gain mileage from the press conference addressed by four seniormost judges of the Collegium in January. He said that attempts are being made by them to malign the judiciary “with little or no credible evidence to support their claim”.
On January 12, four seniormost judges of the Supreme Court – Justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph — had in an unprecedented move addressed the media and criticised CJI Dipak Misra’s style of functioning. Since then, opposition parties have been saying that the judiciary is under threat by the government.
Menon said that the Chairman is supposed to satisfy himself that the case against CJI exists. He said that the VP can take the case further once he is sure that it is supported by credible, relevant and admissible evidence. He said that the Chairman has to convince himself that the ‘alleged’ misbehaviours by the CJI is enough and provable according to the rules laid down by the Constitution. But in this case, he said that charges didn’t appear to be of such gravity to qualify the test of misbehaviour.
Justice Dipak Misra was appointed at the helm of the Supreme Court on August 27 last year. He is slated to vacate the office on October 2 this year.
Noted jurists Fali Nariman and Soli Sorabjee also backed Venkaiah Naidu’s decision. While Nariman said that the Chairman was the only statutory authority take a call on the notice, Sorabjee said that if the opposition moves the Supreme Court, he doesn’t see any chances of success.
Expert’s observation on the topic contradicts the opposition leaders claim that the Chairman has no power to decide on the merits of the notice and thus they will contest his decision in the Supreme Court. A delegation of MPs from seven political parties including the Congress had last Friday submitted the impeachment notice to Venkaiah Naidu. They had accused the CJI of corruption, misusing the authority and failing the protest the independence of the judiciary.
In his rejection order, Venkaiah Naidu had said that MPs are unsure of their own case and they themselves indicate a mere suspicion, a conjecture or an assumption. He noted that the same ”certainly does not constitute proof beyond reasonable doubt, which is required to make out a case of proved misbehaviour under Article 124 (4)”. “Going through the five allegations mentioned in the Notice, I am of the view that they are neither tenable nor admissible,” he said.
After Naidu rejected the notice, the Congress party addressed the media and termed his decision illegal. Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal accused the BJP government of trying to ensure that ‘a lot of information’ doesn’t come on record by scuttling the inquiry. He said that the party will move the Supreme Court against the Chairman’s order. He said that the VP’s decision is ill-advised and hasty.
The ruling BJP slammed the Congress for its impeachment move. Jumping to Venkaiah Naidu’s defence, BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi said that the party thanks him that he didn’t allow his office to be misused. She said that the Congress party’s act amounts to blasphemy towards the Constitution.